Hide the Children! Yule Is Nigh!
Or let them get kidnapped by spirits. Whatever, it's fine! More on that, plus Pick Your Potions gifties for the holidays, and a new booktail honoring MUSIC, LYRICS, AND LIFE!
Welcome back to The Cauldron! (Simmer, simmer) Let the Yule Times Roll!
My friends, the shopping-eating-stressing season is upon us. Yay!/Blerg.
When I was growing up, Christmas was a BIG deal in my atheist Jewish household. As soon as Santa made his appearance at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, little villages laden with plastic snow would appear on every ledge and sill, and a 5-foot Father Christmas clad in red velvet stood next to an overladen tree. Christmas's place of honor in my family had a lot to do with the scars of childhood abuse and neglect suffered by my parents—is there a more benevolent father figure than Santa? But Jesus had little (ok, nothing) to do with it. I was told our modern smorgasbord of presents and treats was the legacy of Christian efforts to convert pagans, which is how Yule became Christmas. As a witchy atheist pagan adult, I honor the old and new ways of celebrating the light’s return to a dark world.
Christmas’s roots are truly dark, though. Just one example can be found among the indigenous people of northern Scandinavia, known as the Sámi. While their belief systems overlap in some ways with the cultures known as “Viking,” it’s unclear exactly how the amalgamations occurred. Either way, some of the following will likely strike you as familiar, especially if you’ve taken note of the pop culture popularity of Krampus. Similar to Norse belief, Julefolk—or Yule-people—appear in Sámi culture, now known as javlla-stállo or rähttuna. Neil Price explains in his exhaustive, fantastically fascinating tome The Viking Way:
“These spirits were partly connected with the dead, and partly with other, less easily identifiable beings. They appeared during the Yule period, approximately between mid-November and early January, and always travelled in a large body, often in the form of a rajd (a sort of caravan formed of sleds, usually pulled by reindeer) drawn by mice and lemmings. Riding through the sky, the Julefolk would move around habitations in the night, drawn by the sound of children playing. Appearing in the form of small humanoid figures, the spirits would then attempt to bear the children away on their mice-drawn sleds. For fear of the Julefolk, children were encouraged to be silent at this time…”
Another type of spirit known to the Sámi were formed from the souls of children who had died of exposure in the mountaintops. Their wails were heard by travelers in the high country. Now that’s a terrifying tidbit for the little ones on Christmas Eve!
The Sámi also believed the world of the living was a mere thin crust separating them from the dead, “which was under the ground and rotated 180° to form a reversed, upside-down realm… The dead lived here, and walked in the footsteps of the living like reflections in the mirror.” But enough about the inspiration for my next-next novel! Let’s talk about spirits of another kind, i.e. the drinkable one.
Gifties: Spreading Good Cheer and Good Spirits!
The cocktails and mocktails inspired by my experimental queer feminist horror novel, THE GOLD PERSIMMON, come in compendium or card form, like a tarot deck of drink recipes. Bundles pairing these with signed copies of the book, along with special edition Yuletide recipes, can all be found on my website!
Looking for Other Gift Ideas?
Custom cocktails or mocktails are the ultimate personalized gift for holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and more! Tell me about your loved one (or yourself!) and I’ll create something magical and original. The best part is there’s no shipping necessary, no stuff to take up space or increase your carbon footprint.
News! Feminist Horror’s Got Class
This February, I’ll be teaching a VIRTUAL feminist horror writing workshop through Politics and Prose bookstore in DC. We’ll dig into The Handmaid’s Tale and Beloved through the lens of feminist horror, then channel or reactions and inspirations into our own creative work. Join us for some fierce feminist fun! (Am I going to make a custom drink for this class, you ask? Ummm… probably.)
Class meets every Thursday in February, 2022 from 6:30-8:30 PM ET
Cost is $150 for non-members
Open to all levels
Now it’s time to sip ‘n read with this new booktail!
“There’s no such thing as being alone while writing,” claims Mike Errico in his newly-released book, Music, Lyrics, and Life: A Field Guide for the Advancing Songwriter. As a reader and a creative, I certainly found pleasant company in Errico’s writing itself, along with doses of humor and the occasional kick in the butt: “Each fear that stops you from writing is a writing prompt,” the author aptly nudges the reader. Cheers to that, as well as gems like these: “What I’ve concluded is that notes are nice and all, but if you don’t have something to say that improves on silence, then don’t say it.”
By now you might’ve realized this is more than a book about songwriting, though it is enormously helpful and insightful on that subject: “A song is a conversation between you and history,” Errico tells us when discussing song structure and musical patterns over time. Music, Lyrics, and Life is also a meditation on the creative process that doles out revelations and advice in the way of the very best teachers. There is a whole passage addressing the hypothetical challenge of a hypothetical student who questions the assumption tires must be round. In return, Errico interviews Jennifer Basl, a mechanical engineer at Goodyear, whose job is to design tires. The subsequent conversation is fascinating. There are also interviews with people like Eric Bazilian, songwriter and founding member of the Hooters; Grammy-nominee Raul Midón; professor, author, Guggenheim Fellow, and cosmologist Janna Levin; actor and comedian Phil LaMarr; Country singer and songwriter Shane McAnally, and literary giant George Saunders, who says some really spot-on things about Beyonce’s “Lemonade.” To hear one idol’s thoughts on the work of another overloaded my circuits in the best possible way.
I thought it fitting for this guide’s booktail to be composed (wink, wink) of classic, quality ingredients, each offering a different element. One may appear to contradict another, but together they achieve a certain balance: rye is slightly spicy and brings “wry humor” to mind; mezcal is smoky, a reminder of a brilliant and hilarious barbecue-hamburger analogy you’ll have to buy the book to enjoy; vermouth for its sweetness and a nod to the rye and vermouth combo in that old standard, the Manhattan; Aperol (or grapefruit juice) adds bittersweetness and acidity, a complement to the mezcal. Finally, coffee bitters pair well with rye and mezcal, a reference to the signature bitter, hot beverage of long hours in a studio. Sage is present for its aroma, and as a symbol of wisdom. Together, they create a perfectly harmonized cocktail of quality and substance, just like a really good song.
This cocktail appears at the center of a scene rife with evidence of (handwritten!) songwriting attempts, with crumpled notes and pages surrounding the glass, pens (sadly without rubber grip) and pencils strewn about. But inspiration and education are in the writing on the walls—literally. The shadowbox is lined with the sheet music for memorable hits discussed in this book, including “7 Rings,” “Like a Bridge Over Troubled Water,” and “All You Need Is Love.”
MUSIC, LYRICS, AND LIFE
1 oz rye
1 oz mezcal
1 oz Aperol OR fresh-squeezed pink grapefruit juice
0.5 oz sweet vermouth
A few dashes coffee bitters
Sage leaf garnish
Combine the liquid ingredients in a shaker with a large, clear hunk of ice. Agitate vigorously and strain into a martini glass. Set a sage leaf in the palm of one hand, then slap it with the other and place gently on the surface of the drink. Serve and enjoy!